Identifying Desert Birds

Identifying Desert Birds
Many species of birds inhabit the deserts found in the Untied States. While many are species that are familiar in other parts of the nation, such as the northern mockingbird and the mourning dove, some are found almost exclusively in the deserts of the Southwest, such as the roadrunner, cactus wren and Gambel's quail. Look for certain characteristics to help you identify these and other desert birds.


No bird is associated more closely with the American desert than the roadrunner. The state bird of New Mexico, the roadrunner prefers to stay on the ground rather than fly, and this is the trait that most helps to identify it. The roadrunner is capable of short flights, but these forays last for only a scant few seconds. The roadrunner is a rather large bird, capable of attaining a length of 2 feet from nose to tail. It has a long beak, white on its tail and a combination of black, white, gray and brown mottling. The roadrunner has a crested head and sturdy, long legs. A member of the cuckoo family, the roadrunner is capable of killing and eating rattlesnakes, an encounter that will not soon be forgotten by anyone who witnesses it.


Cactus Wren

The largest type of wren found in the United States is the cactus wren, which can be as long as 7 inches. The best way to identify this wren is to find it at home in its nest, which is almost always in a cactus or some other extremely thorny plant. The nest is built in a spherical shape as big as a volleyball and constructed of dried grass. The cactus wren is Arizona's state bird, and it is a rusty brown color with many spots on its chest. A long stripe of white goes through the region of the eye. Cactus wrens normally stay close to the ground, but will go to a high point and sing. They eat insects, small frogs and toads, and berries.

Gambel's Quail

The Gambel's quail is a typical pear-shaped quail, but it has a short plume on the top of its head called a topknot. These feathers droop forward on the head of the bird, which is about 10 inches from head to tail. The Gambel's quail is grayish on the top with brownish sides; the male's face is black with a red "hat" on the top, from which the plume unfurls. The Gambel's quail is named after William Gambel, a naturalist who succumbed to typhoid in 1849 at the age of 26.

Curve-billed Thrasher

The bill of the curve-billed thrasher is its distinguishing feature, as it does curve downward from its base. This bill is used to root around on the ground for insects and seeds. The curve-billed thrasher is gray-brown all over and likes to make its nest in a cactus. It will run around on the ground, or make very short flights between thickets and cacti. It can also be identified by its eyes, which are orange.

The golden eagle

The golden eagle is one of the largest birds found in the desert country. It is the national symbol of the country of Mexico and is found not only in the desert but in many parts of the west, as well as Canada. The golden eagle is brown all over its body and takes its name from the color of its head, which has a golden luster to it. The nest of the golden eagle can be 10 feet across and is usually built on a secluded ledge. This raptor can be identified by its large wingspan, which can be as long as 8 feet. Golden eagles love to soar on the wind high up and use their wonderful eyesight to spot prey on the ground. In the desert, it will kill snakes, jackrabbits and other small mammals, such as ground squirrels.



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